September 20 – Arsenal return to the Champions League for the first time in the post-Wenger era when the London club take on PSV Eindhoven in their Group B curtain raiser.
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal became accustomed to life in the Champions League, even if they reached the final of Europe’s premier club competition just once – in 2006 against FC Barcelona – and current manager Mikel Arteta spoke of his pride in guiding his team back to the big time.
A return to the competition is a tangible reward for the club’s progress under the Spaniard.
“Every time I watched (the Champions League) and we weren’t there, I felt it. This club has to be in the Champions League,” said Arteta at a news conference.
“It was a process but we are here and now we have to make the most out of it. It is always a learning process. I think we did and we have improved as a team, we have improved the squad and we deserve to be here…
“We are proud and excited. It has been a long time for the club since we have been in the competition, and for me it is the first time as a manager, so I am really looking forward to it.”
It is the first time since the 2016/17 season that Arsenal feature in the Champions League when they were knocked out in humiliating fashion in the round of 16 by Bayern Munich, 10-2 on aggregate. They came closest to qualifying for the competition in 2019 but missed out on the fourth spot in the league and crashed against runners-up 4-1 in the final of the Europa League in Baku.
That defeat kickstarted a revolution in North London, with spending over £100 million the following transfer window and Arteta coming in as the new manager. Arteta endured difficult moments, but the Spaniard was vindicated last season, finishing runners-up in the Premier League.
His team have been given a favourable draw with PSV first up, followed by Lens and Sevilla, the other Group B opponents and anything less than at least a spot in the round of 16 will be considered a major disappointment.
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